Control Without Responsibility
Holman Jenkins asks “Does Obama Want to Own the Airlines?” (Business World, July 8). I am sure he does not. Rather than own them, the president and his congressional allies want to control the airlines — a crucial difference as ownership implies taking responsibility.
As Mr. Jenkins notes, the Justice Department’s belated intervention against Continental’s efforts to join the Star Alliance appears aimed at extorting concessions for the Democrats’ union allies. That is not the action of an owner of airline assets but of someone determined to redistribute wealth from airline passengers and shareholders to favored special interests.
One of the many benefits of free markets is that the people who own something are the ones who experience the benefits or losses accruing from their use of it. When considering how some property is going to be used, an owner and non-owner may have very strong opinions. The non-owner, who has less to lose, will be less careful and prudent in their decisionmaking. Moreover, often the non-owner will gain more from the misuse of the item than from its prudent use.
One does not have to look to hard to see this phenomenon in action. The attempt by GM to close dealerships, and thus reduce its losses was overridden by Congressmen interested in using GM’s wealth to buy votes by keeping the dealerships open. And that is one example of literally millions of instances that take place every year from all levels of government.
Obama, leading democrats and some very influential economists have repeatedly expressed the idea that increased government control of the medical industry would reduce costs without sacrificing quality. In their vision selfless government officials will ensure that people receive high quality treatment regardless of the cost, while the market power of government as a customer will ensure that costs will stay low. Against this charming vision stands a great body of evidence from public choice theory; government officials – or their private counterparts in the private-public partnerships in vogue today – will be able to exert control without any consequences. Just as medicare and medicaid administrators proved willing to authorize higher and higher treatment prices – to the point where it threatens the budget of the federal and nearly every state government – the administrators of any new government program will behave in similar uneconomic ways.
Control without responsibility is a very bad idea.